In 2006, the Spurs lost a heartbreaking game seven to the Mavericks, preventing a shot at a repeat championship. A year later, San Antonio finished with 58 wins and the three seed out West, but their path to the NBA Finals became much easier when Dallas fell in the first round despite winning 67 games in the regular season. In the first round, the Spurs defeated the Denver Nuggets in five games after dropping the opener. In the second round, again pitted against the Phoenix Suns, San Antonio quickly stole home court advantage in game one after Steve Nash was forced to sit out late due to a bloody nose. The teams traded wins in games two and three, and game four saw multiple Suns’ players leave the bench after Robert Horry checked Nash into the scorer’s table–all were suspended for violating league rules. The Spurs closed out Phoenix in six games and eliminated the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Finals in five to reach the NBA Finals yet again.
The Cavaliers won the 2003 NBA Draft Lottery and selected LeBron James number one overall. Hailed as the franchise savior, James led Cleveland back to the playoffs in 2006 for the first time since 1998. Though they lost to the eventual Eastern Conference champion Detroit Pistons in a seven game semifinal, the Cavaliers were eager to go further in the playoffs. A 50-win season in 2007 gave Cleveland the number two seed, and they proceeded to sweep the Washington Wizards–a rematch of the previous year’s first round series–and beat the New Jersey Nets in six games to set up an Eastern Conference Finals match-up with the Pistons. After losing the first two, the Cavaliers won the next two games at home to even the series. In a legendary performance, James scored his team’s last 25 points in a game five double overtime victory to take a 3-2 series lead. A game six win at home sent the Cavaliers to their first ever NBA Finals.
Now an All-Star, Tony Parker remained the starting point guard for the Spurs alongside former Maverick Michael Finley at shooting guard. All-Defensive First Team small forward Bruce Bowen started alongside three-time Finals MVP Tim Duncan at power forward and young center Fabricio Oberto.
Off the bench, San Antonio used Jacque Vaughn as the primary back-up point guard. Manu Ginobili served as the primary back-up on the perimeter, and Brent Barry served as a fourth perimeter player. Robert Horry continued to spell Duncan at power forward, and former Nugget Francisco Elson was the second center off the bench. Beno Udrih barely saw any minutes in the NBA Finals.
For the Cavaliers, Larry Hughes slid over to point guard in the Finals but missed two games to injury. Sasha Pavlovic was the starting shooting guard on the perimeter next to All-Star small forward LeBron James. Drew Gooden started at power forward in the front court next to long-time Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Daniel Gibson served as Hughes’ back-up off the bench at point guard and started in two games, and Eric Snow functioned as the third point guard for Cleveland. Damon Jones was Pavlovic’s primary back-up at shooting guard, and Donyell Marshall provided depth at forward. Young Brazilian Anderson Varejao spelled Ilgauskas at center. Shannon Brown, Ira Newble, and Scot Pollard all played sparingly in the series for the Cavaliers.
Game One: Cavaliers 76, Spurs 85
The Cavaliers fell behind early due to poor shooting, and the Spurs closed out the first half by extending a close lead with a last-second three from Ginobili. LeBron struggled mightily, finishing with only 14 points of 4/16 shooting and six turnovers. San Antonio extended their lead in the third quarter behind the scoring of Parker and Duncan–the pair combined for 51 points. Tim added five blocks in a game one victory that saw the Spurs’ defense clamp down on Cleveland and force them into 43% shooting. Gibson scored a team-high 16 points for the Cavaliers as they now trailed the series 1-0.
Game Two: Cavaliers 92, Spurs 103
LeBron scored the first basket of the game, but after picking up his second foul three minutes into the first quarter, he had to sit for the rest of the period. The Spurs took advantage and raced out to a double-digit lead that they extended to 25 points at the half. Parker could not be contained, scoring a game-high 30 points for San Antonio, and the Spurs’ other two stars Duncan and Ginobili combined for 48 points. The Cavaliers rallied in the fourth quarter to close to within 8 points, but San Antonio held on to take a commanding 2-0 series lead. James finished with 25 points but again struggled from the field and committed six turnovers.
Game Three: Spurs 75, Cavaliers 72
Both teams shot poorly in a game three that saw both LeBron and Duncan saddled with foul trouble in the first half. Tony Parker hit a floater at the buzzer to end the first half to cap off a 10-0 run with the Spurs reclaiming a two-point lead. The game remained close in the second half, and Parker hit a clutch three late in the fourth to extend the San Antonio lead to five. After Varejao missed a spinning hook in the lane that could have tied the game, Ginobili made one of two free throws, and LeBron’s game-tying three was just off at the buzzer. The Spurs took a huge 3-0 series lead behind Parker’s team-high 17 points. LeBron scored 25 to lead all scorers, but his efforts combined with Gooden and Ilgauskas’ double-doubles weren’t enough for Cleveland to win their first game of the series.
Game Four: Spurs 83, Cavaliers 82
Desperate to keep their season alive, the Cavaliers remained close throughout the first half but again fell behind. Midway through the fourth quarter, Cleveland charged back after being down by double digits and retook the lead on a driving lay-up from LeBron. San Antonio answered, however, with a 12-3 run of their own, and Ginobili–with a game-high 27 points–helped the Spurs down the stretch to finish off the sweep and clinch their fourth NBA championship. Parker, averaging 24.5 points per game in the series, was awarded the Finals MVP.
Their dynasty solidified with a third championship in five years, the Spurs again reached the Western Conference Finals the following season in 2008, only to lose to their rival Los Angeles Lakers. San Antonio would remain competitive with their big three of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili, and they would reach the conference finals three straight years from 2012 to 2014, moving on to the NBA Finals in the latter two seasons.
Despite their disappointing play in the Finals, the Cavaliers would remain contenders in the following few years, winning a franchise-best 66 games in 2009–enough to earn LeBron his first MVP award. After bowing out in the Eastern Conference Finals and successive playoff failures, James would leave as a free agent in 2010. Returning home in the 2014-15 season, LeBron would again lead Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.